December 31, 2019 marks the 28th year of New Jersey’s biggest and brightest First Night, a New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with more than 100 artists, 44 events in 16 venues – representing dance, theatre, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s programs. For all 28 years, Morris Arts has been First Night Morris’ artistic programmer, securing topflight talents who attract thousands from throughout the state and beyond. More than half of the program features new artists (or artists returning after several years), many of whom have performed at world class venues, won international recognition, performed on national radio/TV, in major films and/or collaborated with superstars of performing arts. On that night, one can experience everything from Korean drum dancers, a visit with “Mark Twain,” and a mind-reading mentalist, to award–winning jazz pianists, topflight comedians, virtuoso Chinese instrumentalists, adventures with a pirate queen and even a live reptile show.
Dana McCurdy’s Community in Rhythm Drum Circle
Jazz pianist Ben Rosenblum
Rio Clemente, Bishop of Jazz
On the Rock/R&B/Drum front, The Tones deliver that terrific blend of classic Rock, R&B and “Three Chords and the Truth,” recrafting the music they love as they draw on music by the Eagles, Van Morrison, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Ray Charles and the Allman brothers. Rock your way into the new decade with this terrific band. Got rhythm? Connect with Dana McCurdy’s Community In Rhythm Drum Circle, where you can channel your inner beat with this participatory drum circle.
Hankering for Jazz ? What a treat to bring the trio of Ben Rosenblum, an impressive, award-winning jazz pianist from NYC who’s already soloed at Carnegie Hall, performed at Lincoln Center, California’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center, the Library of Congress and other top venues. Regularly honored by Downbeat, he and his trio tour throughout USA, Canada, Europe and Japan. Of course, First Night would not be complete without our own Morristown star, the sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente (the “Bishop of Jazz”) whose inventive and technically brilliant improvisations astonish and inspire all lucky enough to hear him.
Contemporary Troubadour, Lara Herscovitch
Mike Agranoff, folk singer/humorist
Harmonium Choral Society (courtesy of Morristowngreen.com)
Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey
If Folk Music is your bag, be sure to catch Lara Herscovitch, former Connecticut State Troubadour, who performed on Prairie Home Companion, NPR and tours from Maine to Miami. Informed by decades of international humanitarian work, she blends modern folk, blues, jazz and pop in songs that entertain and uplift audiences – all with a voice “like expensive liquor” (Performer Magazine). Another treat: Mike Agranoff, that category-defying folksinger/humorist whose repertoire encompasses traditional ballads, fiddle tunes, Tin Pan Alley and his own witty pen. With a skilled hand on guitar and concertina, he captivates his audiences, delivering unforgettable stories, deliciously sly parodies and heart stopping spoken word pieces.
First Night’s Classical offerings include the superb artistry of Harmonium Choral Society. From a Renaissance processional to the rich romanticism of Bruckner and the mysticism of Erik Esenwalds, Harmonium’s richly diverse programming and high artistic level will dazzle you. Under the inspired direction of Dr. Anne Matlack, Harmonium will also highlight gender equity, featuring gorgeous works by multiple outstanding women composers. For those more instrumentally inclined, be sure to celebrate the New Year with the award-winning Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey which explores great orchestral works from the 17th through the 21st centuries under the baton of conductor/artistic director Dr. Robert Butts.
The Asaran Earth Trio
Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori
Music from China ensemble
Square dance caller, Mary Moody
First Night’s rich sampling of World Cultures includes the virtuosic, all-female multinational ensemble, the Asaran Earth Trio, whose unique repertoire ranges from 13th century Sephardic music to Hungarian folk songs, and includes contemporary and original works. Their unique arrangements for voice and percussion, colored by improvisation and contemporary harmonies, honor their varied roots (Brazil, Hungary and Italy). Fascination abounds with Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori, whose elegant costumes, disciplined dance formations and intricate drumming techniques showcase the rich traditions of Korean drum dancing. And audiences will delight in Music From China, an outstanding NYC ensemble which has performed at the Library of Congress, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, festivals/residencies across USA, with major symphonies, chamber groups and such jazz greats as Ornette Coleman. Hailed by the NY Times and Washington Post for their artistry, they perform (on traditional instruments) a hauntingly lovely and exciting program of classical and folk arrangements of Chinese music.
In the category of Dance, First Night offers not only the chance to watch the fascinating drum dancing of Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori, but also the opportunity to participate in dancing. If you love reels, line, circle and square dancing to western, jazz and Broadway tunes, or are just curious, neither experience nor partner is needed to participate in Square Dancing with caller, Mary Moody – fun (and dancing) for all ages.
Comedian Andy Pitz
Comedian/Musician Rob Paravonian
Circus Magician Benjamin Lipman
Kit’s Interactive Theatre – Grace, The Pirate
Mentalist Eric Walton
Christine DeLeon revisits the Roaring Twenties
Alan Kitty as Mark Twain
Looking for Theater/Comedy? Laugh your way into the New Year with the wit and wry humor of comedy stars, Andy Pitz and musician / comedian Rob Paravonian. A talented regular at NYC’s top comedy clubs, Andy appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Gotham Comedy Live, as a winner on Star Search (CBS) and with national acts in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Rob blends the mind of a comedian with the soul of a musician, showcasing his unique music-infused humor at top Chicago clubs, on Dr. Demento’s Funny Five, entertaining troops in Afghanistan, opening for Lily Tomlin and performing throughout 49 states. For young and old alike, Kit’s Interactive Theatre features Kitty Jones as Grace, the Pirate and casts the audience right into the show, as part of her pirate crew! Who knew New Year’s Eve included a search for Black Beard’s hidden treasure?! Featuring circus magic, Benjamin Lipman’s Comedy Cascade combines circus arts, vaudeville and humor with juggling, mime and magic while Mentalist Eric Walton, an international award-winning showman, raconteur and mind reader will astonish his audiences as he reads minds, identifies hidden objects, predicts future events and challenges conventional ideas about the limits of human perception. Time travel back a century as the crystalline-voiced Christine De Leon brings back the Roaring Twenties through the enduring songs and dances of the 1920’s. Enjoy more time travel with The Mark Twain Experience, highlighting that legendary writer, humorist, author, riverboat pilot, inventor and genuine American genius. With 40 years of research and performances as “Mark Twain,” Alan Kitty brilliantly captures the wit and wisdom of this iconic figure and makes audiences wonder if the real Twain is still among us.
Fun with LEGOs
Artist “Sam” Matthews and Art 4 Kids
Artist “Sam” Matthews and Art 4 Kids
Rizzo’s Reptile/Wildlife Discovery
Children’s/ Family Programs: During the early session for younger children (4:45-6:45pm), watch audience members encased in giant bubbles, bubble volcanoes, smoke filled bubbles and other terrific bubble tricks with OMG Bubbles. Join in the art making activities with artist Samantha (“Sam”) Matthews’ Art 4 Kids and try your hand building with Fun with LEGOs®. For a taste of the exotic, check out the elegant, intricate and exciting drumming and dancing of the Korean Traditional Dance of Choomnoori, join the crew of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley with Kit’s Interactive Theatre or try your hand (and feet) at Square Dancing with Caller, Mary Moody. Love animals? Who could resist the ever popular Rizzo’s Reptile/Wildlife Discovery which showcases live reptiles (and other animals) – under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler. And feel free to clown around with Juggles the Clown or enjoy face painting and glitter tattoos with Gina’s Facetag at The Children’s Fun Festival.
Juggles, the Clown at the Children’s Fun Festival
Gina’s facepainting at the Children’s Fun Festival
Mark de Mos’ watercolor, Comfortable Elegance at Art Upstairs
Medy Bozkurtian’s acrylic on canvas, Queen of Hearts at the Starlight Gallery
Two visual arts exhibits and fireworks top off that magical evening known as First Night® Morris County. To check out the full lineup of artists, visit: www.firstnightmorris.com.
One inexpensive admission (before 12/21: $20/ticket; $17.50 for 4 or more; prices go up 12/22-12/31/19) covers all events at First Night®. Every venue is indoors and a free shuttle will take you to nearly all locations. For more information, the latest program updates, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, please visit the First Night® Morris County website at www.firstnightmorris.com or call the First Night Morris official ticketing partner, the Mayo Performing Art Center Box Office at (973)539-8008.